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Posts tagged with: writer’s advice

Collaboration: How NOT to Commit Murder

dreamstime_crow on gravestoneMany moons ago, a younger cousin requested help with his writing.  He’s a marvelous storyteller, enjoys roll-playing games, and, like me, is a Ren Faire denizen, but his writing was what he calls organic—aka weak, wordy, and wandering, in need of industrial-strength honing.  Since he’s more like a brother than a cousin, I agreed.

I had several advantages:  

I am the elder.  Cousin remembers the days he, along with my brothers, was put in my charge.  Old habits die hard.

I have more experience.  At the time, I wrote a quarterly magazine column, handled publicity for several youth related organizations, and had two books under contract—which I, later (with cause), withdrew.

Cousin wanted to learn.  No question about who had final authority.

A word of warning:  No matter how well you think you know someone, be prepared to learn more about both that person and yourself.  Not all of it will be good.  There will be days you won’t like the face across the desk.  Worse, you won’t like the one in the mirror.

One of the first things we did was attend a local RWA® meeting where writing friends, Jim and Nikoo McGoldrick, gave a talk on collaboration.  A husband and wife team who write as May McGoldrick (historical) and Jan Coffey (romantic suspense), they punctuated the discussion with audience roll-play.  The first warning bells tolled, but we moved blithely on, confident family ties would ease our way.

They didn’t.

Knowing Cuz wasn’t keen on Historical Romance, and being a closet Sci-fi geek who once dreamed of being an MD—and studied accordingly—I whistled up an idea that combined our interests.  Next, a comprehensive outline complete with character profiles, the particulars of two disparate worlds, and enough conflict to set those worlds aflame.  Since the Sci-fi romance genre did not yet exist, I considered it a fun exercise to hone Cuz’s wordsmithing skills.

Hah!

SAM_0159First mistake:  The outline. (Photos are of the original chapter by chapter concept.)

I’m a pantser.  Dyed-in-the-wool, can’t-write-any-other-way type.  I wanted to get us thinking along the same lines, not strangle us with them.  Cuz’s writing style and mine went to war.  Finding a way to mesh diametrically opposed processes took a wee while.  

If you are a plotter, run from collaboration with a pantser.  All those nice bullet points you put in your outline will become points of contention.  Baldness will be the least onerous outcome.  And two pantsers?  I’m thinking chaos, but it would be interesting to see the final result—if one didn’t cosh the other.SAM_0160

 

Second mistake:  I wrote the heroine.  Cuz got the hero.  

Never would the twain meet.  Narrative passages had to be worked and reworked ad nauseum.  Oh, and my heroine would not have given Cuz’s hero a second glance—except to insure her aim when she shot him.

The list goes on, but this post is supposed to be about how NOT to commit murder, not the myriad reasons why doing so will cross your mind—repeatedly—so let’s move on.

SAM_0161As I said, being the experienced elder gave me leverage.  You may not have that, but it’s important to recognize strengths and weaknesses and step forward or back accordingly.

Cuz took my ideas and ran with them, coming up with things that would never have occurred to me (Sentient androids?  Really?).  His aerospace industry experience provided a knowledge base alien to me.  His perspective also added a depth I would have missed.

I am a word junkie.  Words delight me with their shades of meaning and inherent strength.  Putting them together just so is crack for my addiction.  Add a creative streak that makes the Atlantic look like spit on the sidewalk, and storytelling comes naturally.  And, since the hero is fashioned after a 12th century Scots warrior, my infatuation with history proved handy.

We began to achieve balance.

That’s not to say we didn’t argue.  We did.  Often.  For hours.  Sometimes Cuz’s writing didn’t accurately convey his ideas.  I’d rework a scene, adding continuity and strengthening prose, only to have him come back with a resounding, “That’s not what I meant.”  Frustrating—for both of us.  He threw ideas at me like a pitching machine run amuck (thank you, Donald Maas).  I couldn’t simply dodge them; I had to explain why I wouldn’t swing.  We’d argue—again.

Then there are the small things, the previously written bits that trip you if you aren’t wary.  I have a mind for such details and often scoured the manuscript to find what precluded Cuz’s latest idea or snippet of heroic dialogue.  It didn’t help that life intervened mid-story.  The manuscript languished, all but forgotten–except at family functions when we’d unfailingly end up discussing it—for nearly a decade.

Thus, we call it The-Story-That-Wouldn’t-Die.

Things we’ve learned:

The strongest glue for any collaboration is respect.  Respect for the other person’s ideas, talents, strengths, and opinions.  Without it, clashes will destroy the partnership before it can mature.

Life happens.  Death, illness, accidents don’t care about commitments.  And when two people are involved, twice as much can go wrong.  Add the give and take necessary to determine the best story solutions, and flexibility is a must.

When words won’t come to explain or an idea won’t gel into something easily shared, patience saves lives.  After a time, you learn to hear past the words.

Sometimes you must be willing to see where the wrong road leads.  When time comes to backtrack, you might find yourself with a treasure taking the right road probably wouldn’t have revealed.  If not, there’s always the childish satifaction of, “I told you so.”

Collaboration isn’t for everyone.  Truth is, had Cuz been anyone else, I doubt we would have stuck it out, but I didn’t kill him, he didn’t kill me, and our exercise is now a full-fledged book.  The feedback from those few who’ve read it is encouraging.  One reader, who prefers suspense to romance of any kind, called it gripping and admitted, despite reservations, she read it in one sitting.  It’s a long book!  Have to say, that one earned a cheer and a tear or two.

So, let me introduce you to a brainchild conceived in the 90s, nurtured off and on as life allowed since late 2009, and finally, brought into the world January 2015.

Does she have a soul?SwordandtheStarshipDigital2Smaller

 Genetically engineered to blend with a sophisticated, aristocratic society, Valara F’al-ten awakens from her hibernetic sleep in an uncharted star system, orbiting a planet rich in resources Earth Colony 5 needs, but how does one negotiate inter-galactic trade agreements with a society that still wields swords?

Clan High Chieftain, Gordain Ryn Phellan, has problems—an outlawed clan, a rival chieftain, and a despot with mind-control capabilities—even before he captures the bewitching female who claims to have a flying ship.  That she could be kin to his greatest foe and was assembled rather than born should repel him.  It doesn’t.  Instead, he finds himself torn between his responsibility to the clans and his escalating desire for her.

Despite unnerving physical and emotional changes, Lara needs to complete her mission, but Dain’s enemies have other plans.  Past and future collide as they work together to neutralize the threats, leaving Lara caught between duty and the yearning of her awakening heart. 

Currently available for Kindle, but alternate formats will follow in a few days.

We also have a website.  It’s a bit sparse at the moment, but books 2 & 3 are already in the mental womb.  Shorter gestation should make birthing these new babies—(choke) interesting.

 

 

 

Celebrate!

Time.  It’s rarely a friend, often in short supply, and likes to change things—not always for the better.

Adages about it abound:   Time heals all wounds (or wounds all heels, depending on the circumstance).  Things will work out in good time.  Time waits for no man (or woman).  A stitch in time saves nine.  Time lost is never found.

Yes, I could go on, but you get the idea.  Time is relentless, unfeeling, and inflexible.  It has no care for your ambitions or desires.  It will turn fruit juice to wine, then, a blink, a pause, a miscalculation, and sweet wine becomes acidic vinegar.

Thus, I’m pretty sure you’re wondering why I called this blog Celebrate!

Insanity.

Nope.  Not kidding.  Insanity is the only possible answer.

Think about your excitement when you first started writing.  Oh, the plans, the cloud castles built high in the air.  How could your story not sell?  NYT and USA Today lists, here you come.  Everyone will know your name, your work.  You’ll be famous!

Flash forward.

A couple of years (and dozens, if not hundreds, of rejections) later, the cloud castles have revealed their true nature, dumping periodic deluges, commonly called tears,  battering hail, usually comprised of those (choke) words that will never hurt you, and heart-stopping flashes of unintentional (it’s to be hoped) cruelty in the form of thoughtless critiques.  Your plans have been worked and reworked beyond recognition, and still, you can’t make the grade.

Inevitably, you get introduced to the three Ds:  Discouragement, Disillusionment, and their big brother, Depression.  Nasty fellows.  Yet, you persist, taking classes, entering contests, writing the next story, drafting the next plan, potentially setting yourself up for more of the same.

If that’s not insanity, I don’t know what is.

Good news!  You can defeat the three Ds.  Insanity?  That’s bit iffy—some consider it a necessary component of a writer’s toolbox—but you can keep it from oozing into other parts of your life.

How?  Celebrate! 

Celebrate every milestone, large or small.  Celebrate the fact you haven’t let those devilish Ds defeat you.   Celebrate victory for just sitting down to write every day despite the scars from what’s been thrown, blown, hurled, flung, and whizzed at you.

How you celebrate depends on you.  Despite our penchant for chocolate and coffee, food isn’t usually a good choice unless it’s a celebratory dinner at the end of a long haul.  (Your health is important.  Those Ds are the ultimate opportunists, and poor health is an open door.  Lock it.  Reaching your goals too sick to savor the accomplishment would be the pits.) 

In the short term, despite the  money issues prevelant these days, a manicure or pedicure after a week or two of making your word counts shouldn’t break the bank.   Or you could share a celebration at a wee get-together with your critique partners or other writing friends.  This comes with the added bonus of mutual encouragement, and the boost you’ll get prior to diving back into the frey is beyond price.

Of course, get-togethers cost a few pesos, but monetary rewards always motivate, so motivate yourself.

Put a cup or jar where you work.  When you complete your day’s production, drop in a quarter or a dollar.  Add a coin for each 100, 200, 500 words until you reach your goal whether it’s $20 for drinks with friends (you can’t get too hammered on 20 bucks these days), money for a designer bag, dress, or  shoes, a spa day, or a conference fee. 

Okay.  I admit, these types of ideas would motivate me.  How about you?

How do you celebrate?  What tricks have helped you keep the 3 Ds at bay?

Writing is lonely, demanding, and difficult.  Writing well is even more so.  You deserve to celebrate and be celebrated.  And don’t forget Elisa is giving away a $25 gift card as part of her Hour-A-Day Challenge.  Instant motivation. 

What are you waiting for?  Let’s get writing so the celebration can begin!

Clueless-The Rule of Six

For those of you who know me, you know that I spend most of my life in the state known as clueless.  For example I’m mystified by the need for daylight savings time and pantyhose and signs that say, “hand dipped ice cream” because what else are you going to dip it with?  But I digress…I’m here to talk about writing.

Warning: This is not for you psycho plotters who have charts and character interviews and drawings of your character’s hometown taped up on the wall.  This is for we clueless who sit down to a blank page and try to figure out what’s next….yep, I’m talking about us pantsters.

Don’t confuse the lack of plotting for a lack of vision.  Just because pantsters sit down to a blank page doesn’t mean we don’t know where the story is going.  We know how the story ends, its just all those scenes after chapter one and before ‘the end’ that aren’t clear.

So down to brass tacks…

What happens when you’re clueless where the story goes from here? You can see the finish line but you’ve lost your way and don’t quite know how to make it to the end.

Try the Rule of Six.

There are six different solutions to every problem.

When you’re stuck, go back to the last decision the hero or heroine made and try the rule of six.  For example, your heroine walks in on your hero kissing another woman.  You heroine can:

1)   Slap him and storm out.

2)   Laugh it off because she knows and trusts him and the woman he’s with is a hatchet-faced slut-bunny.

3)   Slap the hatchet-faced slut-bunny and drag her out by her hair.

4)   Not acknowledge that she saw the kiss, sell everything she owns, move to Italy, and stalk George Clooney.

5)   Walk in and demand to know what’s going on.

6)   Walk away, seethe about the kiss and throw it in the hero’s face for the rest of his life.

While some of these choices are stupid and there are only two viable options, the Rule of Six gets your creative juices flowing.  And it’s A LOT of fun.

Try it…I dare you.

How to Write in the Snow: Finding Productivity on Snow Days

How do you write in the snow? Bundle up and wrap your computer in plastic.

I am almost to the point of doing just that in order to get in my words for the day. You see – I have three kids and I live where we rarely have snow and ice. So a few inches without sand trucks and plows paralyzes my town, and we’ve just had four inches with more coming down.Snow!

The first snow day is a blast! Kids jump around like the dog chasing its tail, just for the sheer joy of seeing those fat, white flakes. Dreams of snowmen, sledding and hot coco even make my heart race. I drag out the gear, realize none of it fits anymore, and use my still exuberant mind to rig up alternatives to keep my kids somewhat warm and dry. They head out and I cup my warm mug of chai latte with a smile. Yay! A snow day!

Five minutes later, the 7yo stomps in crying because 13yo brother threw snow in her face and it’s running down her neck. I de-ice her, yell a warning to my son and send her back out into the pristine white. I sit down to write with the soft flakes falling outside my window. Ah… peace.

Fifteen-year-old daughter runs downstairs. “Five girls are coming over in half an hour to watch a movie. Don’t worry they’ll bring their own food.” She smiles like that solves everything. I nod and turn back to the computer to type my second word of the day.

Thirteen-year-old son runs in, tracking clumps of snow through the foyer. “Can Nathan come over?” He has somehow heard about the girls coming and needs to make certain life is fair.

Seven-year-old daughter runs in needing a carrot, coal (who has coal?) and licorice for a smile (my licorice is with my coal).  I improvise with a small bell pepper, broken candy cane, and two black Legos I found in the couch last night. She runs back out, and I sit down to write. I re-read the first two words of the day and type two more.

The girls show up in a babble of teen talk and laughter. I pop corn and make hot coco, because somehow a Super Mom cape sprouted from my shoulders. I warm my chai latte, re-read my four words and finish the sentence. The 7yo runs in covered with snow. I help her change, throw wet clothes in the dryer and make her some hot coco (dang Super Mom cape). She calls a friend and suddenly I count ten kids in my house.

I check e-mail, make it half-way through a response, and jump up to referee a squabble between my 7yo and 13yo. I step in a melting puddle of slush and must change socks, sending me upstairs. I realize my laundry has become a ten-foot high mountain of wet clothes and towels. I start laundry and return to my WIP, no my e-mail, oh shoot, I have to write a blog post for the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood site!

“Mom! Can you bring me an apple juice so I can make a snow cone outside?” yells the 7yo as she and her friend shrug back into their still wet snow pants. I zip them both up, but tell my daughter to find her own apple juice. After all, I have a blog post to write now! I sit down and type the first sentence.

15yo – “Mom, how do I work the popcorn machine? We need more.”  “Can we make brownies?”

13yo – “Mom, can Nathan spend the night?” “Do we have anymore gloves? I lost one.”

7yo – “Mom, I can’t open the apple juice!” “Mom? Just making sure you’re still there.”

“Will this snow day ever end?!” 43yo mom who’s Super Mom cape is now limp and tattered by 12:35 PM.

A roar of glee rises from the family room. “It’s snowing again! And they’ve already called off school tomorrow!”

Sigh…another snow day.

With the winter of 2014 creating lots of snow days, those parents working at home need to figure out creative ways to get their work done. Here are a few tips for writers I’ve learned over this snow week.

  1. Write early or late. By evening, my mind is mush, so if I must write while the kiddos are sleeping, it better be early in the morning. If the schools are closed, still get up at the normal time and get in your word counts before everyone rises.
  2. Lock the Super Mom cape in your closet. If you must provide goodies, when you hear the snow prediction stock up on snacks that can be pulled from a bag. Freezer items, which can be thrown in the oven, work too.
  3. Hide! This works well if you have a lap top. I have learned to write up in my room with the door closed. The walk in closet works too if your kids are good at hide and seek.
  4. Join a writing sprint. The focused 30 minute time intervals help keep your butt in the seat, so when that Super Mom cape escapes and tries to get you in the kitchen baking brownies, you’re strapped to the chair instead. Tell yourself that once you meet your word count goal, you can fly in and be the best mom ever.
  5. Put on a movie. Now this only works if you have kids who will watch a movie and kids who can agree on a movie. But it’s worth a try. Then you employ Tip #3.
  6. If you just can’t settle down for very long to write, do other “writer” things that don’t require the concentration of creating witty dialogue and flowing narrative. I have been taking pictures for future book trailers (my first one can be seen at SIREN’S SONG Book Trailer). So when the snow came falling, I took the camera and went snapping.
    Rebirth pic??

    Rebirth pic??

    You can also update your web site, tweet, and Facebook in quick bursts of productivity. Even editing can be done between interruptions easier than writing fresh words.

  7. Don’t beat yourself up. Snow days are hard on productivity. When our routines are turned inside out, it is just really hard to get things done. Do the best you can and definitely take some time out to have hot coco with your little ones. They grow up fast, too fast. One day, snow days will be calm and productive, and I bet you will miss the days when they were not.

Kids2

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are your tips for keeping up your word count during snow days?

TV or Not TV

I am so excited to introduce our guest blogger today, Pang-Ni (pronounced “Bonnie”) Landrum. “Writer. Mom. Food Truck Follower.” I’ve known Pang-Ni since high school, and she’s awesome in so many ways…but today, she’s awesome because she’s here to talk about writing for TV…or not.

TV or Not TV… Should that be the question?

As a writer who’s been fortunate to have made a career in television, I sometimes find myself falling for the cliche “the grass is always greener…,” thinking my life would somehow be more magical if I were writing for a different medium (movies, books, etc). Likewise, I’ve encountered other screenwriters, both in movies and TV, who, tired of the grind, dream of leaving Los Angeles to embark on writing the great American novel. Which got me wondering… is it ever the other way around? Do novelists ever consider becoming a screenwriter, specifically a TV writer? If, as an author, you’ve thought, “Hey, I could write for television,” here are a few things* to consider before dipping your toe into the Hollywood pool.

Guest Author Kristina McMorris: Writing Dual Timelines

TPWK_CoverI realized from the beginning writing dual timelines was going to be a challenge; I’d never before attempted to interweave past and present storylines into a single novel. Yet due to the nature of what would ultimately become my latest release, The Pieces We Keep—in which a boy’s dreams are mysteriously linked to family secrets from WWIII decided it was definitely worth a try. Among my greatest concerns, however, was that one storyline would outshine the other.

When I myself have read novels with dual timelines, frequently I’ve had to fight the urge to skim the present-day chapters to return to the historical ones. Granted, in large part this is likely due to my personal passion for tales of the past. But I also find that high stakes involving life and death are naturally inherent in most historical settings—from revolutions and world wars to times of slavery and civil rights—and can therefore easily dominate when placed directly beside current-day conflicts of familial or romantic relationships.

To overcome this obstacle, I tried to imagine which scenarios would be as devastating to me, or my character, as the harrows of wartime. My answer, as a mother, came without pause: losing my child in a tragic death, or perhaps in a battle for custody. Obviously there are many other situations that can ratchet up tension and maintain a high level of suspense, no matter the era in which they’re set.

Another challenge I encountered came from my choice to alternate the two timelines with every chapter. I am personally a huge fan of short chapters, finding it nearly impossible as a reader to put down a book when the end of the chapter is “just a few pages away,” but I realized it would be important to find a way to prevent jarring the reader. Also, since links between the two storylines in The Pieces We Keep are fed out gradually, I wanted to suggest a connection early on, without (hopefully) giving too much away.

Pieces-boardcroppedTo address both issues, and in hopes of creating a feeling of fluidity, I opted to start every chapter with a sentence that in some way echoes the last sentence of the preceding chapter. For example, one chapter would end with: “He left no proof of existence—save for the missive in her hand.” While the next chapter would begin: “A half hour later Audra sat alone on a stranger’s couch, the slip of an address still in her grip.”

Finally, another goal of mine was to immediately ground the reader in whichever era they were reading, never wanting them to feel “lost.” Date and location stamps were an obvious choice, but with more than 70 chapters in my novel, I felt these would be cumbersome and redundant (and perhaps even make the book 50 pages longer, ha). Fortunately, my publisher allowed me to use two different fonts, one for each chapter/time period. As a result, this required me to merely state the dates and locations at the start of the first two chapters. I’ve also seen this done in other novels to great effect when clarifying changes in points-of-view.

Needless to say, the tactics I’ve mentioned might not work for every book featuring dual timelines, but perhaps they’ll at least serve as options to consider while you’re brainstorming ideas for your own interwoven story!

McMorris-headshot

Thank you, Kristina, for this intriguing glance at your process.

For those who want more information, Kristina will be stopping by periodically to answer your questions, and in true Ruby fashion, will be drawing the name of one lucky commenter (Shipping costs limit this to US residents only) who will receive a signed, trade-paperback copy of The Pieces We KeepOf course, you can find all of her books at various retail outlets including Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Kristina McMorris is a critically acclaimed author published by Kensington Books, Penguin, and HarperCollins UK. Her works of fiction have garnered more than twenty national literary awards and appeared on the New York Times and USA Today bestsellers lists. Inspired by true personal and historical accounts, her novels include Letters from Home, Bridge of Scarlet Leaves, and most recently The Pieces We Keep. Prior to her writing career, Kristina worked as a host of weekly TV shows since age nine, including an Emmy® Award-winning program, and has been named one of Portland’s “40 Under 40” by The Business Journal. She lives with her husband and two young sons in the Pacific Northwest, where she is working on her next novel. For more, visit www.KristinaMcMorris.com

 

 

 

Ruby Reprise: Writing Thru the Christmas Crazies

I’ve shared this post with y’all last year, but it can’t hurt to hear it again. If you’re like me, you struggle to sit down with your work in progress during the busy, busy holiday season. So I thought it would be fun to share some coping strategies once more. I’ve added my 2 cents worth for 2013 near the end.  🙂  Happy Holidays, everyone!

 

It’s December, and we are currently knee deep into the annual holiday season. As women, we are usually the ones responsible for the planning and plotting that goes into holidays, even if they aren’t being held at our house. The same is true for me—I do the planning, my hubby does the inviting (usually without telling me until the last minute). We end up with a house full of family and friends who eat, talk, laugh, and play games all Christmas day. That’s after a month full of other parties, family celebrations, gift buying, etc. Something I enjoy with a heart full of gratitude.

christmas-trees

But all this partying makes it tough to get any writing done. The list of things to do can extend to infinity sometimes (or at least feel like it). All this extra party planning can really cramp my writing style. I’m sure even you non-writers find time short during this busy season. So what’s an author to do?
Here are a few tips:
1. Up your word count on the days you CAN write.
I know this sounds like it will take even more time, but when you do get uninterrupted writing time, do your best to up the amount of your goal. My usual goal for weekdays is 750 words, but for December I’m aiming for 1250. This way, I can manage a few days off during the month without guilt or getting really behind. So push yourself to do more, and enjoy your reward later.
2. Take it One Small Step at a Time
It can be overwhelming to sit down and face a 1000 word goal, but how about 250 words? Oftentimes, I don’t write my whole goal in one sitting. I can’t, because I have very few uninterrupted chunks of time in my day. So here’s how I approach it: During my morning break at work, I plot out the scenes I’m going to work on that day. Then on my lunch break (30 minutes) I type on the Alphasmart. I also have 1 hour set aside for writing directly after dinner. I try to keep that sacred (doesn’t always work, but I try).
Then thirty minutes while the kids do homework or clean their rooms or 30 minutes while the hubby watches a television show. Just 30 more minute before bedtime, then I can sleep. You’d be surprised how much easier it is to tackle any large project in smaller steps.
3. Be Prepared
For plotters, this is much easier. But it is also doable for pantsters too. Before putting down your pen for the day, take a few moments to write out the first few sentences of your next scene. Make sure your notes on the coming pages are complete and you have a decent map for where you are heading. This will make jumping into the next session much easier (no staring at a blank page wondering what the heck you were thinking to have them break into the warehouse so soon…) and your writing will flow more quickly from the start.
I find a To Do list essential for big projects and my writing is no different. This way, I can see how much time I have, then jump into whatever task I have time for, without worrying I’ll forget what else needs to be done.
4. Utilize the Buddy System
Find a writing friend who needs to accomplish as much as you do at this time. Vow to keep each other accountable. Daily emails require you to send in those totals, even if the sum is 0 (and embarrassing enough to force your hands to the keyboard). Set up times for write ins (getting together for the sole purpose of writing—bookstores are great for this).
And don’t forget a reward. Plan an outing to get your nails painted or a massage when all the hard work is done. A night out to dinner with some girlfriends. Or form an accountability group where everyone pitches in $10, and the top three performers during the holiday season get to split the pot for After Christmas shopping! This will give you a tangible reward, other than the relief you’ll feel when you see all those words on the page.
Addition: New Thing I Learned in 2013
One of my goals in 2013 was to learn to enjoy life in the midst of chaos. I have a full time day job, write at least part time, have 2 kids and a very supportive husband. I felt like I worked from the moment I forced myself to roll out of bed in the morning. About halfway through the year, I realized I wasn’t really LIVING. So I’ve tried different approaches to try to remedy this. Here’s 1 for the holidays: Don’t feel guilty when you aren’t writing. I know it sounds counterproductive, but guilt is only going to bog down your writing, not help it in any way. When you are at a party, or chillin’ with your family, enjoy it. Don’t spend it feeling bad about what you’re not accomplishing. Oddly enough, when you get back to the page, you’ll be MORE refreshed and productive without all that negative emotion hanging around. So there’s my 2 cents worth for this year! 🙂
My hope is that you’ll be able to be as productive as I hope to be this holiday season. We’re all busy. I know that. But you can still manage something (this is me giving ME a pep talk here). So tell me your best advice for getting writing (and other holiday tasks) done during this busy time. (because I need all the help I can get!)

Dani

To Tell or Not to Tell

When I first joined RWA, I read time and again: when people ask what you do, tell them you’re an author. Own it and be proud of yourself. I do and I am. It’s a lot easier when I can follow up with “and my first book will be on the shelves in August 2013,” but I’ve become very comfortable talking with others about my writing. Readers and non-readers.

But I recently ran into a situation that made me think twice.

From the time I started writing, I’ve had to work up the courage to tell people I was an author. I still vividly remember the nervous churning in my stomach when I told my husband I wanted to write my first book. I’m a lucky woman. He was supportive of me as so many people have been along the way. Being outed as a romance writer at a church women’s retreat broke me of a lot of worry, since having 40 people take turns asking, “What do you write?” creates a bit of a thick skin.

But I’ve now found myself actively deciding to keep my authordom a secret. Only in one place – my new day job. I work in an office with six women, but only 2 of them know I write. Why keep it a secret? An upper management boss who only proves more and more how much of a problem this would be with her. She’s extremely conservative and holds to an old-school level of professionalism. She finds something to criticize, no matter how small. That shirt’s a little too low in the front. Those shoes aren’t professional enough. That subject is too personal for the office. While I wouldn’t lie if asked directly, I’m not going out of my way to “share”.

As more time passes, I realize how much of my true self I’m hiding each day. I’m living a double life and not very happy about it. So much of myself is tied up in my writing. I find it very hard not to share my writing triumphs with my fellow workers. To not mention when my characters are giving me a hard time while everyone talks about their rough days. I even have to keep mum about my plans for the weekends, since “writing, writing, and more writing” might raise some eyebrows. But I draw the line at hiding my writing on my lunch break. I usually have a notebook or laptop and what I’m doing on my time is no one’s business – and no one has asked directly yet. Much to my surprise. That particular boss has caught me in the break room and asked questions about my laptop, but draws short of questioning what I’m actually working on.

I haven’t decided exactly what I’ll say when she asks. Not because I’m ashamed of my writing, or what I write, but because I don’t want to be hassled over something that’s none of her business.

So my question for all of you is: When do you tell? When do you not? Are there certain situations you avoid, or have you become comfortable enough to share indiscriminently?

Dani

I’ll check in on my lunch break and after work! Another thing I’m not allowed at this job is personal use of the internet, which I understand a lot more but is very hard when I’d like to be playing with all of you!!!  🙂

 

In Defense of Reading

How many times have you stood in a group of writers and heard this:

“I never have time to read anymore.”

“It’s been a year since I’ve read anything besides my own work.”

“I don’t read because (insert reason here). But that’s okay.”

Um, no. It isn’t.

I’ve heard statements like these aplenty through the years and they’ve always made me a little sad. It wasn’t until I found myself in the same boat that I started to examine this phenomenon. There are so many excuses for us, as writers, to not read, and the majority of them boil down to one basic reason: TIME.

But I’ve begun to question: Will our writing/creativity suffer if we don’t read?

stack-of-books

Reading for pleasure should be a treasured gift to writers. After all, the majority of us came to writing through reading. But it also allows writers to:

1. Re-experience what its like for a reader to get “lost in a book”. We all have memories of this magical phenomena, but the more distant the recollection, the less the potency. Reaffirm your own wish for your readers by returning to your reading roots.

2. Absorb new techniques – not by “studying/dissecting” the written word, but through effortless osmosis. Just like we did before we ever started writing. Later, after you come out the other side of the story, you can ask yourself why you loved the characters or what kept you turning the page. But relax and let your writer’s eye take knowledge in while your reader’s brain is fully engaged.

3. Doing anything you enjoy, sparking your imagination, refills the creative well that gets drained with every project you invest yourself in. It relaxes you, opens your creativity to possibilities, and generally brings us to that peaceful place where we can create without straining or overburdening ourselves.

4. Being a writer doesn’t mean forsaking those things we enjoy. If we do, then our writing suffers. This quote from NYT bestselling author Linda Howard explains this very well:

The fact is, being a writer doesn’t mean you have no life other than writing, any more than being a schoolteacher means you live in the classroom and do nothing else.  Our lives are just like everyone else’s, other than the writing part.  We still have dentist appointments, need flu shots, have fender-benders and children (not sure there’s a difference <G>).  Those things — normal as they are — are stressful enough without throwing in the added stress of feeling frantic because they’re taking away from our writing time.  We still need to enjoy ourselves.  We’re driven by some weird internal chemistry, but we need to give ourselves a break.

Life happens to everyone.  It’s here for us to live, and we should live it, because otherwise we’ve thrown away the most precious part of our writing.  If we give up doing what we enjoy, whether it’s reading or taking long walks or anything else, we’ve given away a precious spark that makes us more human.  Yeah, you may write a more technically perfect manuscript if you devote every free hour to it, but if you really live, you’ll be able to write a more vital, human manuscript — and, as a reader, I can tell you that I’d rather read a book where the characters come alive, than one that’s technically perfect but is as limp as uncooked bacon.

That about says it all…don’t you think?

 

While I know all of this is true, TIME is still an issue. Believe me, as a writer with a full-time day job and a family, I know this is true. So let me share some strategies for fitting reading into a very busy life.

1. Read a little each night before bed or to unwind after work. If you’re the type of reader who can string out a good book, twenty minutes a day would work well for you. Give you a little boost at the end of a long day.

2. Another option for this type of reader is to carry a book in your purse and read while waiting in line, out to eat, etc. Fill those little pockets of time with the yumminess of good characters and thrilling plots.

3. I, unfortunately, can’t read a short time and put an interesting book down. I’m more of a binge reader, so I’ve set up a reward day (or weekends for big projects) when I give myself permission to indulge. Some reward-worthy tasks include finishing a rough draft, after revisions, after completing a writing challenge, or after a set period of strenuous writing. Then I can dip into a new book guilt-free (mostly) and come back to my own writing refreshed.

4. Set up a regular date night – just yourself and your new favorite book. Whether its once a week, every two weeks, or one weekend a month, mark your calendar for a regular reading time as a reminder that its important (and essential to your creative function) to enjoy some downtime.

So as a writer, do you still read? Let’s talk about the whys, the why nots…and how you work reading into your writing schedule.

Season Sense

If you’re thinking this blog is about setting, you’re totally wrong.  Maybe I should’ve changed the title so you wouldn’t have thought so, but after I started brainstorming ideas for a blog it actually fit.

My original idea was to write about two lessons I learned many years ago from my creative writing professor which, yes, would’ve pertained to setting, but then two of my Ruby sisters had also mentioned on our private loop that they planned blogs about the subject. Although I knew we’d approach the subject matter from different angles, I kind of figured our readers would say enough already.  So I’ll save my thoughts on setting for another time.

Anyway, going back to my creative writing classes— since I know you’re all dying to know what they were—the first one was free writing. We all know what that is, right? You just write whatever comes to mind without stopping for a length of time and the writing doesn’t need to follow rhythm or reason. It’s a way of freeing your muse. Thinking about that lesson helped me put a twist on the second lecture, which was setting sense and had to do with experiencing your world, and ‘Wala’  I think I came up with unique tutorial for our awesome followers.

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